Monday, November 23, 2009

Emerging Church and Karl Barth

Our missional church study group is studying a collection of essays published as An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, Edited by Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones. Baker Books, 2007.

One of the better essays in this book is:
Digging Up The Past: Karl Barth (The Reformed Giant) as Friend of the Emerging Church
by Chris Erdman

It is remarkable to me to see the new conversation about emergent church connecting with some old, classic theological reflection from Karl Barth. When I see the old and the new connecting in fresh ways I pay attention. For people of my generation, Karl Barth was a very important theologian in our education. Indeed, Barth was a revolutionary thinker who had a giant impact on the post-World War Two generation of pastors, especially in the Reformed Tradition. This quote from Barth, in a book on Emergent Theology, is very relevant today:

This quote is from Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, volume 1:

"How disastrously the Church must misunderstand itself if it can imagine that theology is the business of a few theoreticians who are specially appointed for the task.... Again, how disastrously the Church must misunderstand itself if it can imagine that theological reflection is a matter for quiet situations and periods that suit and invite contemplation, a kind of peace-time luxury.... As though the venture of proclamation did not mean that the Church permanently finds itself in an emergency! As though theology could be done properly without reference to this constant emergency! Let there be no mistake. Because of these distorted ideas about theology, and dogmatics in particular, there arises and persists in the life of the Church a lasting and growing deficit for which we cannot expect those particularly active in this function to supply the needed balance. The whole Church must seriously want a serious theology if it is to have a serious theology."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Report to the Presbytery Nov. 17, 2009

Can we do this together?

The technology that we have available to us today is remarkable. If you use the “Google Books” search engine you can find almost every book you can imagine. What for me is fascinating about Google Books are the full electronic versions of books that are now in the public domain. For example, working with the University of Michigan, Google Books now has available many of the very earliest records of our Presbyterian Church. For someone like me who likes to study our church history, I feel like a little boy on Christmas morning.

On Google books I found a book that was published by our General Assembly in 1820. In that year our General Assembly published a Digest of all previous General Assembly action going back to the start of our Church in America. Within that very long Digest, there is a shorter article titled, “A Short Account of the Missions Conducted by the Presbyterian Church.” In the introduction of that “Short Account of Missions” we find this sentence: “Our church has always considered missionary labours an an object of importance; which has been pursued sometimes with greater, and at other times with a less degree of zeal.” I learned the earliest Presbyterians in this land put some real teeth into this commitment to “missionary labours.” I quote: “The late Synod of New York and Philadelphia, as early as the year 1766, directed that a subscription should be taken, or a collection made, in all their congregations, vacant as well as supplied, for the purpose of raising a fund for sending the gospel to destitute places. The next year they determined on an annual collection, and adopted other suitable measures for the accomplishment of their benevolent design.” From our very earliest days in America, our congregations were each contributing to a common Presbyterian mission work. As our churches grew in those early days, this common commitment moved right into the work of the General Assembly. Again, I quote: “The General Assemby, which was constituted by that Synod, met for the first time in Philadelphia, in May 1789. During the session of that year, the Missionary cause claimed their particular attention. They directed the four Synods, then existing under their care, to recommend each two missionaries to the next Assembly and that funds might be prepared to meet the expense to be incurred, it was enjoined on all the Presbyteries, to take measures for raising collections in all the congregations within their bounds.”

The missionary impulse flows in our veins. In 1766 the Presbyterians found the conviction and the inspiration to work together in a common mission. Is that conviction still with us? Can we do this together? In the early days there seems to have been this natural, divinely inspired commitment to work together. The gathering of the presbyteries, and then the connecting together of the presbyteries into the first synods, and then, of course, the first meeting of the General Assembly in 1794 all happened very quickly, naturally for our ancestors. What about us? Can we do this together? Is there any inspiration and conviction to do this together? Or has the spiritual energy shifted completely so that we are now being drawn apart, and each congregation does their own thing?

What I am asking is not simply a financial question. I am asking a spiritual question. Where is the spiritual energy? Where is the Holy Spirit calling us and leading us to connect together, be together and work together? Can we do this together? Is there any spiritual energy for connectionalism? There are three large areas around which I would like us discern the spiritual energy in our churches. Again, these are spiritual questions, not first of all financial questions:

Per Capita: This is a very strong Per Capita Presbytery. But I believe spiritually there is no energy or future in the concept of Per Capita. We need to talk about this. I have not asked for or advocated for any increase in Per Capita since I started here in 2005. But with an expected $30,000 budget deficit in 2010, we could simply raise our Per Capita by $2.00 and that deficit would be funded. But I do not discern any spiritual energy there. I know some congregations are redirecting Per Capita to cover other expenses. Is there any spiritual energy for Per Capita? What should we say to churches that cannot or will not contribute their Per Capita?

Basic Mission Giving: In my opinion, the most significant structural flaw in our Presbytery is that no group, and no committee, has taken responsibility for the interpretation of and celebration of Basic Mission Giving. We have done a poor job celebrating what is, in my opinion, the best work in the Presbyterian Church: our World Mission Program. Can we do this together as Presbyterians? Why are so many of our congregations offering greater financial support for Habitat for Humanity, Worldvision and Compassion International than for Presbyterian World Mission? Why can we, within our congregations, raise tremendous support for a one week mission trip while we often have no, ongoing relationship with any of our fulltime Presbyterian missionaries? Can we do this together? Is there spiritual energy for the theology of Basic Mission Giving in your congregation?

Designated Mission Giving: I believe this may be the future of our church, and will soon define the funding patterns of our presbytery. You will notice on our budget report that we now have an income line for Designated Mission Giving to the Presbytery. This category has been growing. There is a lot of energy around designated giving. What does that mean? There are increasing numbers of our congregations who designate mission giving to the Presbytery. Let’s talk about this. Is this the future? What kind of conversations do you have at your session meeting to determine your mission giving designations? Can we do this together?

Please be very clear about my intentions. I am advocating for and calling a very activist and robust Presbytery. I see a Presbytery, maybe through the concept of Regional Associates, that is intentionally linking and connecting congregations to walk together in ministry. I see a Presbytery where pastors and church leaders relate to one another with high levels of trust, prayer and collegiality. I see a Presbytery that has made a commitment to create a holy space, a sacred place where our church leaders and our children can go to connect with God and with one another. We call it Camp Krislund. I see a Presbytery where every congregation has a relationship with, a friendship with, at least one of our Presbyterian world missionaries. I see a Presbytery which working with our World Mission office sends out full time missionaries to serve on our behalf. I see a Presbytery that has connected congregations together in international mission networks. I see a Presbytery which supports evangelists within our bounds to reach out to all the people who will never walk into our churches. I believe the Presbytery is the key link in the connectional commitment of our Church. My friends, can we do this together?